There are currently five head coaching positions open in the NFL including the Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Jaguars, Chiefs and Dolphins fired their head coaches in the middle of the season while the Rams and Bucs waited for Black Monday.
If I'm a free agent coach looking at these teams, which job is the best one available? We talked with SB Nation bloggers from each coach-less team and asked them to make the case for their team's head coach opening as the best one available.
The Jaguars vacant head coaching position is one of the best available because they're a young team on the rise. A head coach would be stepping into a team that possess the NFL's leading rusher and a defense that finished in the top 6, despite a ton of injuries to starters. Fully healthy, the new coach would have a top 5 defense and Maurice Jones-Drew at his disposal.
A few additions on the offensive side of the football and some development by rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars could be a team competing for the AFC South in the new coach's first season with the franchise. Not only that, but the team has a new owner in Shahid Khan who says he will do whatever it takes to win in this league, so the new coach will have resources at his disposal.
There are a couple of things that make me nervous about the Jaguars job. First, how good is Blaine Gabbert? He struggled a lot in his rookie year and there are definitely questions as to how good he can be long-term. The Jaguars are sticking with him, for now, but maybe a new head coach wouldn't want to be saddled with someone else's quarterback. Second, how long will MJD be around? He's only 27 years-old, I know, but he has a lot of wear on his tires over the last three years and it's concerning that one of the positives of this job is a running back, who's life span in the NFL is so short.
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford won the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2010. He struggled with injuries this season running an offense bereft of talent, but is still a cornerstone piece that the next head coach can build around in 2012. On top of that, St. Louis figures to have between $40-45 million in cap space in 2013 to fill the roster with new talent. The new coach in St. Louis also gets to be part of a completely new front office. Reports that the Rams are looking for an experienced coach means that coach gets a tremendous sway in the direction of the franchise.
This might be the top job available. The Rams aren't a great team, we know that. But they do have a lot of pieces that are attractive to a new head coach. You start with Sam Bradford, who most people around the league think has a bright future. You then look to all that cap space and, in addition to that, the second overall pick in the upcoming draft. The Rams job would give the new head coach plenty of options to improve.
There's a theory that you need two things to build a successful football team: a franchise quarterback, and players to knock down the opponent's quarterback. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have both. While Josh Freeman has had a rough year, his terrific 2010 season can't be overlooked. He's clearly the best quarterback on a team looking for a new head coach. As for pass-rushers, the Bucs have invested four first- and second-round picks in their defensive line over the past two years. The Bucs have talent at the right positions, they have the cap space to add as many players in free agency as any team in the league and they have the fifth overall pick in the draft. How can you beat that job?
The Bucs job is an interesting one, too. They do have a young quarterback in Josh Freeman, though I don't think he's the best quarterback on a team looking for a head coach. I think that's Sam Bradford. And they do have those young defensive tackles which provide hope, even though the Bucs defense struggled down the stretch in Raheem Morris' final year. I don't think the Bucs job is as good as the Rams job but you could do a lot worse than a quarterback in place and a good, young defensive line.
The Dolphins should clearly be the favorite destination for a head coach for several reasons. Despite the 0-7 start this past season, this is a young team, with a ton of talent. The defense was third in the league against the rush this season, sixth in scoring defense. With the addition of a second pass rusher to assist Cameron Wake, the defense will only get better, and should be the top five defense expected of it this year.
The offense has weapons all over the place -- Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess and Reggie Bush to name a few. There are two things missing from the offense: a quarterback and a right tackle. The team will fix those this year. And, this is a chance for a coach to get the quarterback he wants; not tying him to someone else's quarterback like in St. Louis or Jacksonville.
The franchise is desperate for a winning team. Owner Stephen Ross is committed to getting the team on a winning track. From the outside, even to Dolphins fans, Ross' tactics are unusual at best, but I really believe that's because he's trying so hard to make sure he gets the right coach to turn the Dolphins around. The fan base is still here, despite the Miami Heat and Miami Marlins getting all the news lately. Miami has always been the Dolphins' town. If the team starts winning again, the city will respond. Plus, it's South Beach. It's in the 70's in January. How can that not be a destination job?
This is indeed an attractive job but there's one key element missing: quarterback. Who will be the quarterback? The Dolphins aren't drafting high enough to select one of the top two guys in Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, so that's my main concern -- where does the quarterback come from? Outside of that, The Phinsider makes good points on the Dolphins. They're not as bad as their 0-7 start indicated and they do have talent at key positions like pass rusher, left tackle and receiver.
The Chiefs job should be a really attractive one for a number of reasons. The Chiefs have a very good and young team with stars like Eric Berry, Jamaal Charles, Derrick Johnson and Dwayne Bowe. They have playmakers on offense and defense. The team is a year removed from winning the AFC West and they're not far off from being able to claim the division crown next year in a weak division. They also have tons of cap space to acquire more talent. They have a GM in Scott Pioli who is still viewed as a bright personnel guy around the league.
The problem with the Chiefs job is the quarterback. Matt Cassel isn't the worst quarterback in the league but he's had four seasons as a starter -- two good and two bad. He's inconsistent so you really don't know what you'll get from Cassel. I like all the positives with the Chiefs job but the lack of a solid quarterback option hurts.
In the end, I have to say the best available job is the Rams opening. St. Louis has lots of talent concerns but they have more pieces than anyone else to address those concerns. The presence of Sam Bradford takes away the hardest piece of the puzzle to acquire yet the Rams still have the No. 2 pick in the draft and approximately $40 million in cap space to address the rest.
If I'm a head coach looking for a new gig, I'm moving to St. Louis.